The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America

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9781402243530: The Jamestown Experiment: The Remarkable Story of the Enterprising Colony and the Unexpected Results That Shaped America

The American dream was built along the banks of the James River in Virginia.

The settlers who established America's first permanent English colony at Jamestown were not seeking religious or personal freedom. They were comprised of gentlemen adventurers and common tradesmen who risked their lives and fortunes on the venture and stood to reap the rewards-the rewards of personal profit and the glory of mother England. If they could live long enough to see their dream come to life.

The Jamestown Experiment is the dramatic, engaging, and tumultuous story of one of the most audacious business efforts in Western history. It is the story of well-known figures like John Smith setting out to create a source of wealth not bestowed by heritage. As they struggled to make this dream come true, they would face relentless calamities, including mutinies, shipwrecks, native attacks, and even cannibalism. And at every step of the way, the decisions they made to keep this business alive would not only affect their effort, but would shape the future of the land on which they had settled in ways they never could have expected.

The Jamestown Experiment is the untold story of the unlikely and dramatic events that defined the "self-made man" and gave birth to the American dream.

Tony Williams taught history and literature for ten years, and has a master's in American history from Ohio State University. He wrote Hurricane of Independence and The Pox and the Covenant, and is currently a full-time author who lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, with his wife and children.

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About the Author:

Tony Williams taught history and literature for ten years, and has a master's in American History from Ohio State University. He is the author of Hurricane of Independence and The Pox and the Covenant, and is currently a fulltime author who lives in Williamsburg, VA, with his wife and children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From Chapter One
Gentlemen Adventurers and the Call to Empire

Long before Jamestown was settled, adventurous Englishmen were among the first Europeans to brave the dangers of crossing the Atlantic to stake a claim to the riches of distant lands. On May 20, 1497, the small ship Matthew embarked from Bristol on the west coast of England. The port city had a thriving trade with the Atlantic and Mediterranean in Icelandic codfish, Spanish wine, and local woolens. The captain had letters of patent from King Henry VII for a voyage to discover new lands "unknown to all Christians," though no financial backing from the Crown. The king would receive one fifth of any riches that were discovered, but the captain had to fund the voyage himself. The captain was seeking a northern route across the Atlantic to Cathay (China) and the riches of the spice trade in the Indies. The man who captained the vessel was not even English; he was an Italian with the anglicized name John Cabot.

On June 24, the Matthew landed on the Feast of St. John in northern Newfoundland. He coasted for hundreds of miles along its eastern shore through dense fogbanks and floating icebergs. His sailors went ashore once and saw signs of life but no natives.

The men easily scooped up basketfuls of cod from the rich fishing grounds. Having made his discoveries, Cabot ordered his crew to set sail for England. The Matthew made landfall in Brittany in early August and returned to Bristol a few days later.

Cabot traveled to London, and four days later had an audience with the king at Westminster. The explorer did not have a baggage train of spices and gold to show the king, but he had valuable information of a great discovery-Cabot assumed that he had indeed discovered a northwest passage to Cathay and made landfall on an island off the Eurasian continent.

King Henry's imagination was stirred by news of this "new found land," and he offered Cabot a reward of £10 for his discovery. Henry also granted Cabot new letters of patent for a second voyage to establish a colony that would send shiploads of spices to London. This time the king provided and laded a ship, while British merchants invested in four ships filled with cloth to trade for spices. In May 1498, the five ships left Bristol with hopes of bringing home great riches. One of the ships returned shortly, but the other four, including Cabot's, were never heard from again.(1)

This was largely the extent of English overseas ambitions for more than half a century. After this faltering attempt at discovery, the English relinquished the initiative for daring voyages of discovery and the riches of the Far East and the New World to the Spanish and Portuguese.

The English were laggards in the race for overseas empire compared to their Iberian rivals, who had trade relations and imperial possessions in their far-flung empire stretching across the world in the Caribbean, the Americas, the Philippines, the Indies, Japan, and China. As would be later said of other empires, the sun never set on the Spanish Empire in the first half of the sixteenth century. The Spanish Empire began when the admiral of the ocean sea, Christopher Columbus, sailed to the New World in 1492 and discovered gold on his first voyage, which prompted three more transatlantic crossings to the Caribbean and the South American mainland.(2)

Rival Portuguese and Spanish claims to the New World caused the intervention of Pope Alexander VI, who issued the papal bull Inter caetera (1493), which led to a claim dispute between the two imperial powers. The next year, the Spanish and Portuguese quickly negotiated the Treaty of Tordesillas, setting a line of demarcation at 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. Spain won the rights to the territory west of the line, and the Portuguese to the east.(3)

Over the next two decades, Spanish colonists exported an impressive fourteen tons of gold from the Caribbean to Seville. Still, some were dissatisfied with their personal gain and sought gold over agricultural pursuits, with Hernando Cortés famously quipping, "I came here to get rich, not to till the soil like a peasant." Settlers successively moved from Hispaniola to Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba in search of wealth. In 1519, Cortés led an expedition of settlers called conquistadors to the mainland and two years later conquered the Aztec Empire centered at Tenochtitlan in Mexico. In 1532, Francisco Pizzaro conquered the Incan Empire in Peru and seized tens of thousands of pounds of gold and silver.(4)

Bartolomé de Las Casas published an indictment of the Spanish cruelty toward the native peoples, wildly speculating that the colonists had killed twenty million. Although the natives did indeed perish by the millions and the Spanish settlers committed atrocities, the native populations were overwhelmingly wiped out more from smallpox, influenza, measles, and a plethora of other diseases than by the sword. Still, the rumor became fact in the mind of Spain's enemies, who used it for propaganda purposes to denounce Spanish imperialism.(5)

In September 1519, Ferdinand Magellan led the Armada de Molucca that set sail from Spain to the fabulous riches of the Spice Islands in the East Indies. He braved the tempestuous straits at the tip of South America and entered the vast Pacific Ocean. Although he was killed by natives in the Philippines, his men endured and reached their destination, trading for thousands of pounds of spices, including cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Scurvy and starvation claimed the lives of his men, while shipwrecks destroyed some of the vessels with their precious cargoes. Less than twenty of the sailors managed to circumnavigate the globe in one ship with a cargo that more than paid for the three-year voyage.(6)

The Mexican and Peruvian mines fed the Spanish treasure fleets that crossed the Atlantic to Seville every year laden with the precious metals. The wealth supported Spanish ambitions on the Continent, paying Spanish and mercenary armies in Italy and the Netherlands, when the Dutch revolted against Spanish rule. Initially, the fleets had to contend with deadly hurricanes and other dangers of the Atlantic, but then they proved too inviting a target for other Europeans. For the English, some cod fishing boats joined hundreds of vessels from other European nations traveling back and forth to Newfoundland every summer, but that was the extent of the English overseas ventures. But by the middle of the sixteenth century, all that was about to change.

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